I didn’t want to have to write this piece. Then on July 10th (2018) a Forbes article came out that absolutely disrespected the legacy of a man who was a large part of the gaming community and industry. It wasn’t a simple drive-by hit-piece. No. Rather, it was an in-depth acidic assault that aimed to rot the foundation of this man’s decade long history of passionate work.
That man’s name is Totalbiscuit. Rather, that was his internet moniker. He was a big Terry Pratchett fan.
According to this passage from Pratchett’s 1998 novel Carpe Jugulum:
“Well, we did once have a king called My God He’s Heavy the First,” said Nanny. “And the beer’s been on for the last couple of hours so, basic’ly, you’ll get a cheer whatever you say.”
“Besides, thought Agnes, I know for a fact there’s people out there called Syphilidae Wilson and Yodel Lightley and Total Biscuit.”
All I know for sure is that I’ve seen Totalbiscuit’s career play out first-hand. Since at least 2011. I’m an eyewitness to a reality that’s being brushed under a rug of lies and smears about his life’s work.
It’s something that I intend to fix. John Bain fought his entire life to help consumers get a fair shake. The least one can do in return is give him that same opportunity. Human decency and respect didn’t die with Totalbiscuit, no matter what the media vultures picking at his corpse think otherwise. The pursuit for personal dignity is just as alive as he was.
So. I’m going to give telling the story of Totalbiscuit a fair shake. It won’t be sugar coated. But it will be the honest reflection of life he deserves. Totalbiscuit liked dogs. He liked metal. He liked wrestling. People loved him and believe it or not John Bain loved people too. But with YouTube fame that came at a cost. He made sure to distinguish the fine line between viewers and friends.
Totalbiscuit saw the internet Wild West age end, and tried his best to guide the gaming community through the turbulence of today’s times.
It began with a question.
“The precise moment that started me on this path. I was in the car with my dad. In Middlestone Moor. I heard a Live365 ad on the radio. ‘Be your own DJ, make your own internet radio station!’ it said. ‘I want to do that,’ I said. ‘I wont cost us anything right?’ Dad said. The RIAA effectively obliterated Live365 couple of years later so we went the pirate route, but thats what started everything.”
So while John Bain was around 16 to 18 years old at the time, Totalbiscuit was born in an old silver Ford Mondeo estate. But before we’d see him grace the airwaves of YouTube, TB went from “pirate icecast radio,” into student radio, and then onto online talk radio.
The first thing he wanted to bring to the airwaves was metal.
“Got my start on student radio with a last minute demo tape that featured Nightwish and Mr Bungle. Mike Pattons divine intervention,” TB said.
As far as it seems, this student radio gig lasted from roughly 2001 to 2003. It was at some place called DemonFM, a community & student radio station in Leicester. WoWRadio got set up in 2004. It was based somewhere in the US. At some point toward the end of that year. TotalBiscuit was the owner of it, overseeing staff members. One of his tasks was getting sponsors. TB says this was possible with his audience of 500 listeners. WowRadio closed up shop at the end of January 2011. Bain transitioned over to CynicalBrit by this point. One of the most important things to note here is that the radio days are where Totalbiscuit got his signature voice from. Of course. But TB’s transition was necessary because “WoW Radio was a bloated, expensive mess, Cynbrit isn’t.”
I wanted to know what it was like being in the trenches with Bain back then. So I interviewed
WoW Radio was never as successful as Cynical Brit was, but it was also certainly self-sustaining with little to no support from WoW Radio’s leadership, or at least, I was never asked to provide resources to the financial stability of WoW Radio. After Blizzcon 2009, I was called into a meeting with TB and Eriyana and the tone of the meeting was that TB was done trying to lead WoW Radio with some number of staff that was trying to undermine his leadership. I don’t know the details beyond there being a faction of staff that tried to take control of the station during Blizzcon. Both Hordak and I were pretty aloof from the rest of the staff by that point, so I can’t tell you exactly who was who.
Let us make it clear. Totalbiscuit talked about PC games, and not console games.
The first video on the TotalHalibut YouTube channel (what would become TB’s main workspace) was uploaded on July 29th 2008. The contents of the video itself are actually two years older, though. It takes us back to 2006 when a 21-year-old John Bain gave a talk about World of Warcraft and video game addiction. Much of the Totalbiscuit we all know is present there, over a decade ago in an Arizona lecture hall. The energetic snark coupled with genuine enthusiasm for gaming. Classic TB mannerisms are peppered throughout. The guy was analytical and openly embraced nuance. He had a signature disdain for moral panic in society. On top of it all it looked like he was giving this speech from memory alone. The audience is deeply involved in what’s going on. They’re entertained, interested, and have their attention visibly invested in what TB is talking about. Skip to the end of the video where there is a Q&A session to see this for yourself.
You’ll notice something with the participating audience members who come forward to ask Totalbiscuit questions. They feel comfortable and confident with challenging him. People don’t lob softball questions at TB, but instead give hard-hitters. He didn’t shrug off in his responses either. Instead, managing to fire back with something as equally formidable. Not everyone agreed with Totalbiscuit either. There was at least one prominent skeptic in the audience. But TB treated them with the same level respect as everyone else.
John Bain knew how to start a conversation. At the end of the video, the possibility of starting a “guild” in order to combat the mass media narrative about video game addiction is brought up. As Totalbiscuit heaps praise about the social aspect of gaming, his appreciation for the power of friendship gradually comes into focus. It peaks at the point in his lecture when mentioning how even if our world can easily end up torn apart by war, that in the midst of all the darkness and ruin the concept of friendship would survive. Bain refers to friendship as one of the few, real enduring qualities about our society.
Little did he know that his viewpoint would be viciously tested throughout the course of his YouTube career.
By May 9th 2011, Totalbiscuit passed the 100,000,000 views milestone for his YouTube channel.
To give you a sense of perspective. Totalbiscuit’s YouTube channel hit 10,000 subscribers on July 5th 2010. From there he just climbed and climbed. By January 2011 he was up to 217,000. Hitting the arbitrary milestone of 250,000 on March 2nd 2011. Soaring and soaring upwards in the months afterward. The 500,000 subscriber milestone came in October 2011. By June 2012, the arbitrary nature of subscriber numbers began settling in. But make no mistake. Thinking of numbers as arbitrary doesn’t mean TB wasn’t proud of them all. He was. 750,000 by August 2012. Milestone after milestone.
All of a sudden here he was. Sitting at the big 1,000,000 subscriber mark on March 14th 2013. After that the whole milestone thing seems kinda silly. The plaque is nice though. According to Socialblade he peaked at 2.28 million on June 27th 2016.
His flagship series? WTF Is.
The first one. On September 14th, 2010 Totalbiscuit uploaded a pilot episode to what would go on to be one of the key pillars of his YouTube career. It was titled “WTF Is… – R.U.S.E.?,” taking viewers through the ins and outs of some military strategy game.
His booming voice commands your attention and carries TB from start to finish.
The most important thing Bain was doing here? Playing the video game. This wasn’t just a “Let’s Play” (a genre of YouTube content which you are no doubt familiar with). TB went the extra mile when showcasing game-play mechanics, going as far as he possibly could to play out the intended experience promised by a particular product. Not content with simply sitting in silence while playing a game, TB used his voice to his advantage and narrated what was happening. So now viewers not only got a chance to see the game, but they also got insight from Bain himself to make sense of that. In the case of R.U.S.E. he educated viewers on quality-of-play facts like the responsiveness of the PC version. This seemingly niche bit of information makes a difference to the consumer, as in the world of video games when there’s PC and console versions they might not be exactly the same product throughout the both of them.
With all that said. When Bain asked the simple question of “WTF is R.U.S.E.?,” he provided an answer to that. R.U.S.E. is a reference to the game’s signature strategy which grants players the ability to deploy imitation units that launch a fake assault on their opponent.
Thus. The question was answered.
[MENTION HOW WTF IS PROGRESSED THROUGHOUT THE YEARS (what changed, plus trivia facts)]
Here’s what FUN creators, the game developers of Guise of the Wolf, emailed Totalbiscuit’s team. If you think it was a one-time thing, when it comes to sending “colorful” emails like that? Nope. Their follow-up was the same level of (un)professionalism. It didn’t just happen in private, either. It was a public brawl. TB had to make it one because the company denied taking down their YouTube videos. They went as far as to accuse Totalbiscuit’s staff of photoshopping these messages, so they had to make a video proving otherwise.
I won’t just tell you the impact WTF Is had on the gaming industry. I can show you, too. March 7th 2014. Totalbiscuit does a video on One Finger Death Punch. Here’s what the game’s developers said had resulted thanks to Bain spotlighting their product.
The Framerate police.
— “I also do like that he was one of the few reviewers that took the hardware and price into consideration which are big decision factors”
— Make a note about Warframe
— “WTF is.. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. TotalBiscuit- “in 25 years of gaming i don’t think i’ve ever had an experience which has matched up to brothers”” http://archive.is/14hee
TotalBiscuit loved Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons so much that he gave away game keys for Christmas that year.
Fans of Totalbiscuit say the best example of TB being truly happy in his element as a critic was when DOOM by ID Software and Bethesda Softworks came out in May 2016. He made a 20 minute video specifically with the intent of gushing over the game’s well crafted campaign mode. It becomes clear that Bain was surprised at how everything in DOOM was harmoniously in sync. Especially with regarding to the pacing of action (the “shocking” movement speed carrying the player into it within seconds of starting the game). TB says he felt a similar sensation back in 2014 when Bethesda’s Wolfenstein: The New Order came out. But here with DOOM, the consistent spawn rate of demons in light of the modest difficulty mode, the plethora of secrets throughout that encouraged Bain to replay levels, and the weapon upgrade options that delightfully reward the player’s combat abilities. Most noticeably, TB was blown away by the glory kill system implementation. Not only were the animations short enough to avoid being detrimental, the generous amount of health awarded for performing them maintains DOOM‘s pacing. He loved that the atmosphere wasn’t too serious and how that was made perfectly clear in the main character’s “not giving a fuck” attitude.
“God I can’t wait to play the rest of this. This is great!” John Bain was a kid in a candy store with DOOM.
Of course there were times TB clashed with the audience’s opinions on games. Like Titanfall 2. Mass Effect Andromeda takes the title when it comes to the longest “WTF Is…,” according to Bain.
The last one. On February 16th, 2018 Totalbiscuit uploaded what would be the final episode of WTF Is… in his YouTube career. It was titled “WTF is… Octogeddon ?” taking viewers through the ins and outs of some cartoon octopus rampage game.
His once booming voice is now noticeably wounded, but TB carries it from start to finish.
Even in his final months, Bain still found the energy to slam Octogeddon’s lack of an options menu. In this final entry into his series TB followed through as intended with giving the viewer an intimate sense of what to expect when playing. Despite this it’s still heartbreaking to watch Totalbiscuit’s video here. Which is unexpected when you see a cartoon octopus flailing around underwater shooting weapons at oncoming enemies. But when I think about it a bit, I realize the sentimentality of this comes from the fact that TB was able to present something goofy and far-fetched in a completely dead-pan serious manner.
A little over halfway through (around the 11 minute mark), TB lets his octopus character die on purpose. He openly welcomes death as a good thing here because it would allow him to show us more features of the game. You can make all sorts of symbolic comparisons from this, but I’m not going to do that. It’s just hard to swallow hearing “ARGH I THINK IM GOING TO DIE” in Totalbiscuit’s final WTF Is… episode.
There’s always the question of what to label TB as. Was he a journalist? A critic? A gaming commentator (at least that’s what his business cards said)?
What we can say for certain is that no matter what Totalbiscuit was, he made sure to be as transparent as humanly possible about it. Wasn’t even afraid to show viewers his channel analytics. Which in the end is a valuable insight to his audience. It’s rare for the public to get an opportunity to see the significance and impact of social media platforms like Reddit.
This short essay that TotalBiscuit wrote earlier on in his YouTube career best exemplifies the behavior dynamic between content creators and the community. That, on top of TB’s personal views and roles in such a relationship. On the one end, TB harkens back to the self-defeating cycle in which the response to toxicity is “Reddit isn’t one person!”, while all the meanwhile encouraging a further pile-on of negative behaviours.
“Members of Reddit, TL or other similar sites make the claim that they are not all one whole that the actions of a few do not represent them all, yet they are always so defensive about the whole thing, acting as a collective pack in defense of the hive, which puts out a pretty confusing message. Yeah you’re right, you’re not all one person, Reddit or TL etc. is not just one collective voice, so why are you so upset? I mean we’d have to be idiots to assume that it’s all one voice coming from there, so surely you can see that when we say “Reddit” we mean “those vocal minority dicks on Reddit”, right? Well apparently not, because this goes the same way every time and always exposes even more venomous attitudes.”
He says that the “old boys” cabal of prominent people in online communities like his only seek to do their job to the best of their ability and make sure everyone has a good time. But the tension between community and creator is rooted in the bile nastiness that spouts forth from the “nobsacks” who decide to shit on a creator’s career.
TB ended his post by reminding the reader that there’s real people behind every keyboard. When it comes to Bain’s struggles with social media and feedback, that’s exactly what we’ll see on display.
Folks reading have likely seen the infamous “get cancer and die” tweet from Totalbiscuit. Many see it as “hella ironic” that John Bain himself ended up getting cancer and dying after tweeting that exact thing to people (twice).
Any shmuck on the internet can point the above facts out, call it “poetry” or something like that, and move on to something else. What hasn’t been said or looked at yet is all that “in-between stuff.” The journey from A to B that Totalbiscuit went on in coming to terms with his cancer.
In fact, most people don’t even do the decency of mentioning Totalbiscuit’s acknowledgement of the “get cancer and die” fiasco. He wrote a May 2014 Twitlonger addressing it and giving context on where his life was at the time TB said what he did.
In 2011, Totalbiscuit was in the midst of digging himself out of a ditch his government put him in. The UK immigration authority fucked him. Not just in the standard fashion either. They royally screwed him over by making the years of struggling Bain went through to see his wife and kid be for naught. It was a three-year trek to this middle finger the UK government gave him. After being booted from the USA in 2008, sacrificing the independence of his youth by moving back to his mom and dad’s, then financially tredding water on a teeter-totter of making day to day ends meet.
John Bain was running on the carrot-and-stick treadmill of “the system.” He was hoping to save enough funds to afford a lawyer to take care of his visa problems. But Bain’s job at the time didn’t sufficiently pay for that opportunity to be feasible. It was only through the miracle of YouTube success (and the money within), that TB broke this cycle.
Totalbiscuit broke free of his circumstances and started getting a wife/kid visit in motion. Only to have that STONEWALLED. Bada-bing. Bada-screwed. A recipe for disaster that boiled over on Bain’s Twitter feed.
With that context taken into consideration, the “get cancer and die” tweet is seen in a different light. Bain didn’t say that out of malice toward @Seanza. It came from the place where love and anger meet up together inside someone’s soul to hang out (alluded to by TB himself during that rage storm). As you can see, the tweet certainly wasn’t personal. He lashed out at several different people that day. Nearly all of it still there on his Twitter feed, all these years later (minus “get cancer and die” which was deleted).
It was an incident Bain could’ve buried that day in 2011. Never looking back at it again. But in May 2014 Totalbiscuit chose to atone for his mistakes instead. He made it clear that apologies to the folks involved were made (making one to @Seanza in particular in May 2013).
Back in that Twitlonger, TB finds himself asking one not-so-simple question that he (nor anyone) has an answer to:
“The internet is weird and we are the first people have to deal with the idea that everything we do could potentially come back to haunt us and that there is no such thing as a delete button. In time I’m sure we’ll come to understand how best to handle that, but as it stands most of us are just stumbling in the dark.”
Are Traps Gay? ShortFatOtaku presented the most circulated argument at that time. He laid out the distinction in lifestyle choice between transgender people and cross-dressers.
Unfortunately people who were around during GamerGate took this CoxCon situation as some sort of betrayal. The gaming community et al thought it was hypocritical for Totalbiscuit to slam his own audience. It’s certainly an odd way for John Bain’s online career to culminate. A fan convention debacle that left a sour taste in the mouths of all parties involved. Laura Kate Dale wasn’t afraid to give it a solid “fuck you,” despite eventually claiming they were aware of the broader context with the phrase itself.
But in Dale’s recollection of the incident, that context awareness is brought into question. “Short version – They were asking if a man attracted to trans women is gay (the implication being the trans woman is really a man),” tweeted Laura.
Therein laying out the heart of the problem at hand.
Totalbiscuit kicked things off by tweeting the person who made the joke was IDed and removed from the event. “We will not tolerate that bullshit in our event, ever.” TB followed up by donating the cost of the ejected ticket to the Albert Kennedy Trust (who focus on transgender issues). Throughout the day of July 22nd, Bain threw around terms like “edgelords” and “flaccid trolling” when describing the situation itself and public reaction.
In the waves of social media reaction that kicked up once the CoxCon fiasco hit, there was an old tweet from TB that bubbled back to the surface.
Indeed. People online thought it was apt to compare the one-on-one Twitter conversation between two friends (an apple), to a stranger cracking a joke in his opportunity to ask a question from a group panel during a convention in front of a real-life audience (an orange).
It’s worth providing an official explanation as to what the circumstances surrounding the CoxCon incident were, from the team’s point of view:
“TB didnt make the decision alone. This is one of many falsehoods being thrown around. The decision was made by the Coxcon staff and panelists as a group. We have been told that there were no non-staff involved in any of the decision making process. That includes Laura K, who is not a staff member or panelist at Coxcon, just a regular attendee. This is another rumor that has been spread by various trolling groups and has cropped up on this subreddit as well. The moderation team has been told in no uncertain terms that this is completely false. A meeting took place in the Coxcon staff and ops rooms, which are not accessible to anyone in the venue who is not a staff member or invited panelist. Laura K was nowhere near there at the time, didnt have access to those rooms and in fact was photographed at the time the decision was being made on the opposite side of the venue.
The decision was made with full knowledge that the remarks made by the attendee were a meme and their connotations. It was also done after reviewing the tape of what had happened along with eye witness accounts of staff members that were in the panel room at the time. Despite a few nervous laughs, the panel room was genuinely uncomfortable during that segment at the atmosphere noticeably soured. There is a clip floating around that some are claiming shows the audience found it funny, but as you can see if you watch any of the VoDs, Coxcon is a VERY loud crowd and compared to any of the moments that the crowd genuinely found funny, this is a small number of people nervously laughing while everyone else cringed. The panel room at Coxcon was frequently full and holds over 1000 people. It was full during the opening panel. 1000 people laughing is orders of magnitude louder than the laughter in the clip.”
TotalBiscuit did not make the decision alone.
Yet how it looked at the time, I still thought TB lost his marbles on this one. Despite having somewhat of an understanding as to his motives, it still would’ve made more sense to handle it differently than it had been. But without a doubt it goes to show John Bain was loyal to his friends. In retrospect, the CoxCon incident is also perfect in summing up what Totalbiscuit really stood for. In his good, bad, and ugly moments.
The fact that people were disappointed in the first place with Totalbiscuit here, demonstrates the high regard his audience and the public had for him as a person. John Bain didn’t build his YouTube empire on a foundation of lies. Instead he kept himself honest. However the definition of that may have seemed to play out on a situational basis. If you’re thinking to yourself of a time Totalbiscuit lied? Chances are he was the one to tell you about that lie. Bain acknowledged his personal shortcomings. I bet you can rattle off a dozen different YouTube channels that have had their fair share of past shady dealings. Folks who create an atmosphere of doubt to their legitimacy. But with Totalbiscuit? That doubt was replaced with a sense of confidence. You were left assured that John Bain was being straightforward with you. Every single time.
But there was a cost of Totalbiscuit’s record of transparency. That being the fact that the real world isn’t always neat and orderly. Sometimes things happen that just don’t make sense. TB had to cope with that, and deal with the hand life gave him. The cost of being honest in an imperfect world is that at some point from the outsider’s perspective, expectations don’t match up with how events played out.
Doesn’t it sound tempting to just give into that lie? To sacrifice your personal values for the sake of keeping up appearances? Back during the 2016 election season, Bain admitted to drinking out of that cup. It was clear he did not like the taste of it. To TB, the sweet little lies we sip ourselves every day was a bitter and noxious concoction. Life is an emotional experience, too. We’re not machines. If you expect someone to be honest in respect to that, you’ll get the full spectrum of emotion. No matter how many years go into tightly controlling and taming that aspect of human nature, at the end of the day a human is still there.
That’s precisely what swings us back around to TotalBiscuit’s principles. He was fiercely loyal to his friends and colleagues.
He’d soon face a difficult test of this exact nature.
A little over a month later, everything would go to shit for TotalBiscuit’s friendship with Laura Dale. It all started on August 16th 2017. Laura Dale releases “TotalBiscuit on Dealing with the Hate” on Kotaku’s UK branch site. It’s a very mundane and straightforward interview which explores the harassment experience by him and around him online. There were absolutely no jabs or attacks at other people personally. In fact the interview is diligent in staying within the boundaries of reflection to being TotalBiscuit personally. GamerGate was never mentioned by name.
Everything went bad when FemFreq showed up to tweet. “Outrageous & irresponsible of Kotaku UK to post this puff-piece on a Gamergater on the hate movement’s anniversary.” She piled on another. ” You know what? Both sides were there. Nazis and anti-Nazis. What’s your side?”
Opps! Anita apparently went too far because their last tweet on the topic was “you can strongly disagree with & condemn something that someone says or does on the internet, but doxxing a marginalized person is never OK.”
“Alright Anita, I’ve ignored you for 3 years and your fade to obscurity is delayed by me acknowledging your existence, but you’re a hack. Anyone who tells people NOT to read an anti-harassment article with advice on how to combat harassment, is not anti-harassment. As if we didn’t already know. Anita is interested in one thing, milking as much from this industry as possible intellectual dishonesty. She along with her allies have poisoned reasonable discourse for years on the topic of representation in games. @femfreq supports harassment. So come at me. You stand shoulder to shoulder with 4chan trolls and bigots in attacking the loud, sane voice in the room. You cannot win. When you and your cronies attacked a transgender journalist for trying to combat harassment, you revealed you are only in it for yourself.”
In the end, TB had to let go of the very person he was adamant in standing for.
“It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.” ― Terry Pratchett, Jingo